Kle Mens

Kle Mens, Trójca // Trinity, 14'24, 2017

BLESSED IN BLACK

Kle Mens locates the woman at a site of contestation - violently torn between political and religious ideals. This woman is reclaimed, rebuilt as she is lived through Kle Mens' practice traversing painting, moving image and sculpture. With this, Kle Mens charges her work with personal motivation and autobiography - a powerful investment of every last memory of kneeling on cold church floors. Thus, the deep, performative dimensions of the work serve up new imagery - for both herself and the woman - and arise from the transformations in Kle Mens' own real body. For the solo exhibition, “Blessed in Black,” Kle Mens assumes the ambiguous figure of The Black Madonna of Częstochowa*, opening the painful terrain upon which fixed, unquestionable iconography rests. The female body is disowned in Christian narrative, by accrediting the birth of the Savior to the miracle of immaculate conception. This lost body is signified by blackness; the blackness of the lost body shrouds it in mystery, evoking the unknown and unseen. Kle Mens explores the mystical lost body by letting it inhabit her own: an oblique political act of making this negative space visible and tangible.

Both video pieces involve performances; an infinite loop of Rublev's three angles from The Trinity, and a recital of the Litany of Loreto made in the first person. Her self-portrait revitalizes a traditional painting technique that involves the painstaking application of translucent layers onto an untreated wood panel. Through the reinvigoration of venerated religious works in black guise, she cites blackness as filled with wondrously dynamic potentials, albeit controversial ones. The blackness both contrasts and compliments the swollen, tender breasts that are filled with the potential of milk - a miracle that features in the Madonna Lactans. The pure, white milk may be a merciful offering for sinners, but here it acts also to liberate the captive female body.

Elaine Tam (curator)

  • Black Madonna of Częstochowa is a holy depiction of the Virgin Mary — and the most famous religious artwork in Poland — residing in Jasna Góra Monastery, Częstochowa. A variety of beliefs, ritual acts and pilgrimages are zealously dedicated to her. Reproductions of this painting with its highly ornamented riza appear in households all over the country. (Picture at the bottom of the page).

BŁOGOSŁAWIONA W CZERNI

Kobieta znalazła się dziś na polu bitwy, rozdarta między polityką a religią. Kle Mens odzyskuje ją na nowo w swojej praktyce artystycznej: w malarstwie, wideo i rzeźbie, które nasyca motywami osobistymi, nawracającymi wspomnieniami z klęczenia na zimnych kościelnych posadzkach. Zmagając się z własnym ciałem, stwarza nowe wyobrażenie siebie i nowy obraz kobiety. W wystawie „Błogosławiona w czerni” Kle Mens podejmuje temat wieloznacznej figury Czarnej Madonny z Częstochowy, otwierając wypełniony bólem obszar sztywnej i rzadko kwestionowanej ikonografii. Kobiece ciało zostaje w chrześcijaństwie wyparte; Zbawiciel przychodzi na świat dzięki cudowi niepokalanego poczęcia. Kle Mens okrywa utracone ciało czernią, która spowija je tajemnicą, wskazując na to, co nieznane i niewidoczne. Eksploruje mistyczne utracone ciało, pozwala mu zamieszkać w swoim własnym, w niejednoznacznym politycznie geście uczynienia tej czarnej przestrzeni widoczną i namacalną.

Wideo „Trójca”, wariacja na temat słynnej ikony Rublowa, odtwarza trzy czarne anioły w nieskończonej pętli. W „Litanii” Kle Mens jako Czarna Madonna recytuje najbardziej znaną w Europie modlitwę maryjną - w pierwszej osobie. W autoportrecie „Madonna lactans” zaś rewitalizuje tradycyjną technikę, polegającą na żmudnym nakładaniu półprzezroczystych warstw farby na nagie drewno. Czerń, w którą Kle Mens obleka święte przedstawienia, nabiera cudownego potencjału, choć od razu wzbudza kontrowersje. Czerń kontrastuje i jednocześnie uzupełnia nabrzmiałe, delikatne piersi, wypełnione potencjałem mleka - oto cud ukazany na obrazie „Madonna lactans”. Czyste, białe mleko może być miłosiernym darem dla grzeszników, ale tutaj staje się sposobem na uwolnienie uwięzionego kobiecego ciała.

Elaine Tam (curator)

DISCLAIMER

Radical gestures will always require disclaimers. 

This disclaimer is about the cross-cultural assumptions foreign viewers may have about the artwork in 'Blessed in Black'.

The intention of the artwork situates blackness in a strictly Polish context, as the inspiration taken for these artworks is the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. It is implicit in the curatorial text that this is the basis for the work, and an address of a popular religious icon specific to Poland, the original painting located in the city of Częstochowa. For Polish readers of the artwork this reference is obvious, given that the Black Madonna of Częstochowa is a well-recognised figure that commonly appears in households all over Poland and is deeply rooted in the culture. 

The artwork in 'Blessed in Black' was made specifically for an exhibition at BWA Zielona Góra. When dislocated from its original context, it can be misunderstood. Therefore I want to stress that my motivations should not be understood as a propagation of racist practices, and is in no way intended to oppress, mock or subjugate any race of peoples.

I wanted to draw attention to the fact that the nationalists pray to a black Jewish girl, though they may not be fully aware of it. The radical, political gesture of impersonating the Black Madonna of Częstochowa is an attempt to open this crack in white Polish nationalism, which is closely aligned with religion. Its motivations is to create debate about the overlooked blackness of this venerated icon, which is a symbol at the heart of a nationalism that incites xenophobic rhetorics. It was of special importance to me as a Polish artist to make this statement, given the current political climate in Poland. 

What is political art for, if not to create artworks that target the tough blindspots of its locale? 

Kle Mens

„Litany”, 10’15’’, 2017
Reżyseria / Directed by: Kle Mens
Zdjęcia / Cinematography by: Barbara Kaja Kaniewska Produkcja / Produced by: Dominika Połomska, Koi Studio Makijaż / Make up: Anna Piechocka
Obsada / Cast: Kle Mens
Studio: Bratanka Studio, Warsaw, Poland

Madonna Lactans, olej na desce / oil on panel, 36 x 60 cm, 2017




* Black Madonna of Częstochowa (attested as early as 14th century):